State of the musician’s life

November 20th, 2014

Two very interesting articles I’ve read this week offer glimpses of the state of the music business.

A while back, Peter Case posted on Facebook that he was starting a label. I wrote to him: “Pretty soon it’s going to be ‘one man, one label.’” And he replied: “Yeah, it’s like the fall of the Soviet Union: the playing field has been completely leveled.”

It also means that the ceiling has come down so low that a modestly-successful (but largely happy and self-sufficient) player like me can be see as doing reasonably well. And that the possibilities for the likes of me are fairly limited. I am too old to be a pop star (and not even slightly interested in making the kind of music that would put me into that world) anyway!

Steve Albini: “The old system was built by the industry to serve the players inside the industry. The new system where music is shared informally and the bands have a direct relationship to the fans was built by the bands and the fans in the manner of the old underground. It skips all the intermediary steps.”

And: “Music has entered the environment as an atmospheric element, like the wind, and in that capacity should not be subject to control and compensation. Well, not unless the rights holders are willing to let me turn the tables on it. If you think my listening is worth something, OK then, so do I. Play a Phil Collins song while I’m grocery shopping? Pay me $20. Def Leppard? Make it $100. Miley Cyrus? They don’t print money big enough.”

Read Albini’s keynote from the Face the Music conference (whatever that is).

And this article from this week’s East Bay Express exposes the moves Pandora has made to boost its profits by lowering payments to performers and publishers.

The Tyranny of Free, by Sam Lefebvre

I get checks from SoundExchange, piling up those infinitesimal payments for each play on Pandora, Spotify, various airline music streams, etc. “Echolalia,” an instrumental from my CD The Ones that Look the Weirdest Taste the Best, seems to be fairly popular.

I make money playing gigs, and I sell a modest amount of “product” at those gigs. The small amounts I make from royalties isn’t really enough to make a difference in my life, but a few hundred bucks a year from BMI and SoundExchange, plus sales (hard copy and e-book) of Conversations with the Dead, help me to feel like a viable entity in the marketplace.

I don’t have the resources to do any serious promotion, and quite frankly it doesn’t seem like a wise investment anyway. I said this to some friends who just put out a CD: if you’re not in stores and you’re not touring nationally, then it doesn’t make much sense to spend money trying to get radio airplay. I invested in radio promotion for Weirdest when it came out in 2008, but I don’t think I’ll do that for the next record.

I am in complete control of my musical life and work: I own the rights to all of my songs and recordings. I book almost every one of my own gigs myself. I pay an accountant to manage my business (which includes my radio work), and I have an agent representing me for book stuff. But I don’t make enough money to attract a booking agent or manager – and (Catch-22!) it’s hard for me to step up to the next level as a touring performer because I don’t have access to the major talent buyers, don’t have enough of a draw to get into big clubs, etc.

But! I get to play the music I want to play. I do some festivals, play lots of house concerts (which I LOVE); I tour with the Rumpke Mountain Boys as often as we can manage it; and for almost a year now I have been making entirely improvised music with a band we call The Known Unknown. It’s really hard to market, but it’s really fun to play and the guys I’m doing it with (Phil Savell, guitar; Zach Partain, bass; Neil Hampton, percussion) are as into it as I am. I’ve had a couple of unpleasant experiences in recent years, putting together bands in which I was pretty much the only one moving things forward; it’s really nice to be with people who are willing to invest their energies into all phases of the project!

I grew up in a musical world that just doesn’t exist any more. Not much point in mourning that, ’cause there’s work to do and fun to be had in the world I’m in.

Dead to the World 11/19/14

November 19th, 2014

(Started an hour late following the Pacifica National Archive fund-raiser)

Weather Report Suite->
Row Jimmy
– Grateful Dead 2/24/74 Winterland, San Francisco
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – Allman Brothers Band, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
Six Feet of Snow – Leftover Salmon, High Country
Some Iko – Butler-Bernstein and the Hot 9, Viper’s Drag

2/24/74 is the first release of the 2015 Dave’s Picks subscription series.

David Nelson on schisms of the folk era and the advent of Bob Dylan

November 17th, 2014

(The David Nelson Band has an amazing new studio CD, Once In a Blue Moon. Check it out!)

David Nelson, July 2007:

In the late ’50-early ’60s, there were factions, camps. “I like folk music” usually meant Kingston Trio, the Brothers Four, Limeliters. That was a surfacey kind of folk music.

There were those of us who dug a little deeper into the funky stuff, which is what it comes from. The New Lost City Ramblers was a good example. Mike Seeger, Tom Paley, and John Cohen would take old 78s from the ’30s and then capture that – but not exactly. They were doing their thing; they were into the music.

People were taking sides. “Oh, you’re one of those ethnic people,” and they would point the finger at us. At a folk festival, we’d gather around and over here there’d be people who could play banjo and fiddle – “that low stuff.”

We’d say, “Yeah, we’re into ethnic music.” That meant bluegrass and old time string band music. “Eww…”

By the time the Monterey Folk Festival came around and Dylan was there –

By the way, we won “Best amateur band” – me, Hunter, Garcia, Ken Frankel, and Norm van Maastricht. I believe we were the Hart Valley Drifters. We auditioned there, and Mike Seeger gave us a big applaud and we won the band contest.

There was Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, the Kentucky Colonels – all these bands. It was incredible! But the reviews in the [San Francisco] Chronicle – “Oh, the Monterey Folk Festival! Big fiasco – it was way too ethnic-heavy! All this traditional stuff – who wants that?”

We were going, “Oh, man. Won’t they ever get it?”

That’s the way it was in those days: you took sides. It was either-or; you’re jumpin’ on this or not. It was like enemies. If somebody was into the Kingston Trio, you had to be enemies because you played bluegrass. That’s the way things were in the ’50s.

I liked that [mainstream folk] stuff, because it introduced guitars to everybody.

And then there’s the political songwriters – the Almanac Singers, Woody Guthrie – that’s a whole legitimate genre, too. But somehow we had to be enemies. We were fighting each other, y’know. I don’t know what for. That’s what I recall.

There’s this kid Bob Dylan, who’s writing songs. We were thinking, “Why would you want to write a song? There’s so much good stuff. How about ‘The Cuckoo Bird‘ by Clarence Ashley? How come you don’t play that? No, no, no, you have to write a song.” And yet, I go back to those songs now – “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” oh man! To this day, that song is just utterly riveting! At the same time as being related to traditional music. You couldn’t declare it, because of all that infighting, but secretly we all knew. “You got the album? So did I.”

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1365

November 16th, 2014

Week of November 17, 2014

Part 1 33:37
Grateful Dead 9/20/82 Madison Square Garden, New York City

Part 2 21:54
Grateful Dead 9/20/82 Madison Square Garden, New York City
Grateful Dead, Europe 72: The Complete Recordings (5/10/72)

The 5/10/72 “Playing in the Band” is included here because I heard a musicological presentation on the song by Brian Felix (of UNC-Asheville) at the conference “So Many Roads: The World in the Grateful Dead” in San Jose on November 6, 2014. The Europe ’72 tour was the time when “Playing in the Band” was growing into one of the Dead’s most important improvisational frameworks. You can order the complete show from DeadNet.

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from:

The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, a venue that hosted popular 1970s rock bands like Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. Phil Lesh & Friends will perform at The Cap for their fourth weekend in a row on November 21 and 22, with John Kadlecik, Joe Russo, Jason Crosby, and Keller Williams. New local artists are featured frequently at the venue’s nightclub Garcia’s. Events, information, and ticketing at

Dark Star Orchestra’s Jamaican Jam in the Sand Getaway, February 27 to March 3 at the Grand Lido Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica. Three full, two-set DSO shows and an acoustic set, two David Nelson Band shows, Grateful Grass featuring Keller Williams, Vince Herman, Sam Grisman & Allie Kral, plus two more Keller Williams shows. Details at

Photos of Alembic, then and now

November 14th, 2014

This week I visited Alembic Inc. for the first time in more than 30 years. This is a link to a set of photos from this visit, plus a few shots I took in September 1978 when I was there to write a story for BAM Magazine.

Alembic – photos by David Gans (1978 and 2014)


November 12, 2014 plus a few images from September 1978

New time in Roanoke

November 12th, 2014

The Grateful Dead Hour moves to 9pm Sundays on The Valley’s Music place, 101.5 in Roanoke VA.

Complete station list is here.

Three bay area gigs this week

November 12th, 2014
  • Wednesday, November 12, 9pm: DG and Stevie Coyle join Teja Gerken‘s Guitar Showcase at the Sleeping Lady, Fairfax CA
  • Thursday, November 13, 7:30-10pm: The Known Unknown at the Monkey House Theater in Berkeley: DG, Phil Savell, Zach Partain, Neil Hampton, and guests. $10-20 sliding scale. Email reservations@monkeyhousetheater for info/reservations.
  • Saturday, November 15, 9:30 am to 1:30 pm: Grand Lake Farmers’ Market, Oakland CA. Free! Great produce, meat, and prepared foods.
  • More info and more future gigs at

    Grateful Dead Hour no. 1364

    November 9th, 2014

    Week of November 10, 2014

    Part 1 26:53
    Grateful Dead 9/20/82 Madison Square Garden, New York City

    Part 2 28:44
    Bob Dylan, Down in the Groove
    The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack
    Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, So What

    Interview with Robert Hunter, 2/25/88:

    I brought the book, I think it had 15-17 songs, in to the Dead before we made In The Dark, of which several were selected for In The Dark – “Push Comes to Shove,” “Black Muddy River” – perhaps only those two were selected. I took about three of them for the Liberty album, and Dylan took two of them for his album. Set ‘em, and sent me a tape. That’s what I call easy to work with.

    So you submitted these to Dylan, and he chose them? And there was no other communication, really?

    No, he just flipped through the songbook that was sitting there at Front Street, liked these tunes, put ‘em in his pocket, went off, set ‘em to music, recorded ‘em. First time I met him he said (Dylan voice): “Eh, I just recorded two of your tunes!” And I said, “Neat!” [laughs]

    He didn’t ask first?

    Bob Dylan doesn’t have to ask a lyricist if he can do his tunes! Come on, man! I gotta just say this for the record. You got your Grammies, you got your Bammies, you got your Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame – as far as I’m concerned, Bob Dylan has done two of my songs, and those other things sound far away, distant, and not very interesting.

    And you like what he did with the tunes?

    Very, very much.

    And that’s “The Ugliest Girl in the World” and -


    Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from:

    The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. On November 14 and 15, Phil Lesh & Friends play the third of their five consecutive weekend shows, with Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, John Kadlecik, Jeff Chimenti, and Joe Russo. Featuring numerous craft beers on tap, the venue’s intimate nightclub Garcia’s is open several nights a week and hosts local and national touring acts. Events, information, and ticketing at

    Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from Dark Star Orchestra’s Jamaican Jam in the Sand Getaway, February 27 to March 3 at the Grand Lido Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica. Three full, two-set DSO shows and an acoustic set, two David Nelson Band shows, Grateful Grass featuring Keller Williams, Vince Herman, Sam Grisman & Allie Kral, plus two more Keller Williams shows. Details at

    GD Hour returns to WZZU Lynchburg VA

    November 4th, 2014

    Sunday mornings at 10 on 97.9 The Planet, Lynchburg VA – starting Nov 9!

    Complete station list is here.

    My mistake

    November 4th, 2014

    I fucked up.

    In the liner notes for GarciaLive vol 5, just released, I stated that “God Save the Queen” is known Stateside as “America the Beautiful.” I am getting notes from all over the place, calling attention to this blunder.

    I regret the error.